I am head over heels in love with The Lorax.
I am wary of describing it as ‘perfect’, but honestly it might be perfect.
It is perfect.
Looking like a protest in an industrial Land of Oz, this is a show that oozes colour, bubbles over with energy and fizzes up into a big wondrous fuck you to capitalism.
The Lorax speaks for the Truffula trees, but a young entrepreneur insists on cutting them down to create largely useless but massively sellable thneeds. Over the course of catchy songs spanning gospel, rap, rock and protest song the Lorax’s home forest is destroyed, the creatures around him die, and a soulless city of consumerism springs up nearby.
But it is pitched so perfectly – at just the right level of hilarity and heart – that you accept this pretty heavy message with open arms. This show will welcome you with a hug, seduce you with wit and wondrous songs and offer you so many moments to actually laugh out loud that you would probably do whatever it says. It just so happens that what it says (the system is shit, look after trees, care for one another) is every bit as brilliant as the show itself. You know it’s brilliant as well because there’s a massive axe-machine-slash-moped that they all do a rock number while riding around axing stuff on. The design across the board, with all its cartoonish saturated colours, is great… but they excelled themselves on that axe machine.
And what a puppet. What a set of puppets, even. I love puppets, but the Lorax is something special. Pot bellied and adorning a big yellow moustache, he sits somewhere between park ranger and walrus, and he is puppeteered by Simon Lipkin, Laura Cubitt and Ben Thompson with such gentle conviction and proper skill that he becomes a complete character – one who can take centre stage with a booming solo that will see him hold an audience in his felty orange hand. I would follow this puppet into the revolution, if only to watch him sassily putting his hands on hips every once in a while.
The script, too, is so wonderful. Everything rhymes and so much of it – a mixture of words of Seuss and plenty adapted and added by David Greig, with songs by Charlie Fink – is really funny. Part of this show’s excellence is that it updates the story a little, sprinkling it with references to social media, without doing that cringey down-with-da-kids thing so many children’s shows fall into the trap of. Even when its being meta it does it with knowingness and charm and a great joke about an orange.
Recently, I wondered why children’s theatre never feels like a Pixar film. Why does it so rarely manage that engrossing story, emotional ransacking and pure fun that those films can. Well, The Lorax does it. This is a colourful, ridiculous world that so well mirrors our own and will so certainly make you shed a few tears as the Lorax offers up a most magnificently low key protest song, and a few more as he watches the forest he tended die.
I really did think it was perfect, and I did so very much love every inch of it, and I wish I could watch it whenever I needed hope.
A very different note (and one that possibly contradicts all the superlatives I have already written): While it may be perfect for me – everything I want in a production – it presents something uncomfortable I have been feeling in much more theatre recently; it sits at odds with its own message. Not completely, I assume the Old Vic adheres to an environmental policy, and there’s info in the programme on environmentalism (admittedly in two pages of all-text no-pictures which maybe doesn’t best facilitate sharing the info with someone age 6 – 9…), but can putting on a theatre show be carbon neutral? Perhaps the ends justify the means; spark environmentalism in the youngest generation now and save the future, so spend the energy now? Perhaps not, since while the messages are great and everything I want to be told, I cannot definitely say that they will completely change the ways of the children who consume this show, for perhaps they are just too lofty and too lost in the practice of making a show. Maddy Costa’s Exeunt write up of this show is on point, and goes into this is more eloquent detal: read it here.
Recently I watched A Christmas Carol in the West End, which is also about how capitalism is shit (the show’s pretty good, as it goes). Theatre does keep saying this, and in all honesty I got discount tickets for both for £10 each. This is a fair price, and paying for theatre is good, because I want to support artists I enjoy. But, there’s something I find uncomfortable about seeing shows that do seem to fit within competitive capitalist culture while also trying to damn that construct. Seats with a metre between them at both the venues for Christmas Carol and for The Lorax differ in price, which is charging more to one person for essentially the same experience as another, and it enforces a hierarchy based on financial success. Eggs on toast at Penny, the new café in the Old Vic, is £6.50 (which, given an ‘artisan’ whole loaf is like £2.50 and eggs are £1 for six without even going wholesale, is a pretty epic mark up). It’s fine if you want to say capitalism is shit, or environmentalism is great, but there is something that I am finding more and more uncomfortable about much of what I see (largely applies to big budget stuff, heavily promoted stuff in all honesty), where the moral is about something that the luvvies in the arts will go for, without actually putting the message into practice. It worries me that morals are becoming a selling point, rather than something to try to live by. I actually found it a bit upsetting to feel this and write this about a show I so wholeheartedly loved as well.
But anyway, bloody hell, that Lorax. What a lush, lovely show for a wet Wednesday night.
Old Vic Theatre